It’s morning, your alarm is going off, and you’re figuring out if you can spare five more minutes of sleep. Maybe you’re still tired because you ended up staying up super late. Or maybe you’re confused as to why you’re tired, considering you got enough hours of sleep in. Either way it’s a rough start to your day, especially when every time you wake up you don’t feel well-rested.
What if I told you there’s a way to make sure you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and actually well-rested? It’s surprisingly quite simple. But first, you need to understand your body’s sleep cycle.
Sleep Cycle 101
There are four different stages of sleep. The first stage is called N1, and it is essentially a light-sleeping stage. This is when your body starts to slow down, your muscle activity slows, your breathing finds stability, and you begin to nod off. This stage usually lasts from 5-10 minutes. The second stage is called N2, and in this stage your brain waves slow down even more. Your heart rate slows, your body temperature decreases, and your eye movement stops. This is because your body is preparing to go into a deep sleep. N2 lasts around 10-25 minutes. The third stage is N3, more commonly known as “deep sleep”. The brain produces delta waves in this stage, meaning your brain waves are very slow at this point. There is no muscle activity, no eye movement, and if you happen to wake up in this stage you would most likely end up confused and groggy. In this stage the brain is much less responsive to outside factors and stimulants, and it is hard to wake someone up in this stage. N3 typically lasts for 20-40 minutes. Proceeding the N3 stage is the REM stage. REM sleep is vital for one’s health. During REM, sleep isn’t as deep as brain activity increases. This stage is where one usually experiences intense dreams.
While you are sleeping, your brain alternates between N1/N2/N3 and REM. This four stage cycle lasts around 90 minutes. This is the average time, but it can be slightly different for everyone.
Applying the Knowledge
We now know that the average sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes. So how can we use this to our advantage? Well, say you have to wake up in the morning at a certain time. By working your way backwards from that time in 90 minute intervals, you can figure out what time would be best to go to sleep at, so that you’ll have a better chance of waking up well-rested in the morning. This can lower the chances of waking up in deep sleep or REM, as you would still feel tired and perhaps even more groggy. Of course, this is according to the average cycle, so find what works best for you.
Sleep-wake cycles can be affected by other factors, leading to a bad sleep. For example, alcohol reduces N3 and REM stages, which causes a disrupted sleep. Caffeine itself can prevent you from being able to fall asleep in general. Even temperature can affect the REM stage – if your room is too hot or too cold it becomes harder for the body to regulate its temperature during REM, which can cause sleep disruption.
If you want to stop waking up tired, groggy, and in a bad mood, work with your sleep cycle. Find what works for you so that you can wake up well-rested. But getting a good night’s sleep isn’t only about the bedtime. Make sure you make decisions that will help your body thrive in REM and deep sleep, and stay away from the things that will only disrupt. After all, the best feeling is when you open your eyes in the morning and your body is so full of energy that you don’t even consider closing your eyes just one more time.